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Why do UFC fighters Make So Little Money

¬†Unless you were living under a rock in 2017, everyone has heard of the Conor McGregor boxing match against Floyd Mayweather, also known as “The Money Fight” and¬† “The Biggest Fight in Combat Sports History.” Mayweather, who was forty at the time, had never lost once in forty-nine boxing matches. McGregor, on the other hand, was twenty-nine and coming off a series of solid wins in the UFC. Despite the hype surrounding the fight, many sports fans, fighters included, considered it to be nothing more than a money grab. After all, Mayweather was guaranteed a $100 million paycheck and McGregor’s guaranteed paycheck was $30 million. That was for one single fight. McGregor eventually lost in the tenth round but it wasn’t even the fight itself that fans were surprised about but the money made. In the end, Mayweather reportedly made as much as $275 million from the fight and McGregor walked away with $130 million.

The following year, McGregor made another $47 million after one single appearance in the octagon against Khabib Nurmagomedov. Nurmagomedov, the winner of that fight, took home $11.5 million.

These numbers are huge for any sport. However, these numbers are exceptions to the rule. The reality of most UFC fighters is very different. 
           
At the start of their career, fighters sign a contract which pays them $10,000 to fight and another $10,000 to win.

It may sound like a lot of money for most people. Especially for one single fight, but in reality, that $10,000 doesn’t mean much when fighters have other expenses.

“Fighters probably spend the best part of $4,000 on their camp, and they usually pay their manager 10 percent of their purse ‚Äď sometimes more,” says Jim Edwards, a renowned MMA journalist.

Then fighters need to cover their nutrition expenses and if fighters are at the bottom rung, the UFC only covers the travel costs of one cornerman. Hotels are not included either. Depending on where the event takes place, a good chunk of that purse can be spent on hotel rooms. A three or four star hotel won’t cost the same in New York City and Calgary.
“By the time you take tax out of that as well, you’re left with what? A few grand? Maybe even a few hundred dollars if you lose.

“A lot of these guys basically live fight to fight, barely making any money.”
The earning power of UFC fighters has been affected in recent years by the Reebok outfitting deal, which requires them all to wear a Reebok fight uniform.

This apparently became an issue when George St-Pierre was bound to fight Michael Bisping in 2017. St-Pierre had a lucrative sponsorship deal with Under Armour but was not allowed to wear any other brand during the fight.

The Reebok deal still pays fighters a small amount. $3,500 a fight for someone on a basic contract, up to $40,000 a fight for champions but for a lot of fighters that is much less than what they could have made with another sponsor.

“Before that deal came in, there was quite a lucrative sponsorship market within MMA. There was a lot of sponsorship money going around, people were endorsing fighters left, right and centre,” says Edwards.

In 2017, when Michael Bisping declared weeks before his fight with Georges St-Pierre that he never had a million dollar payday in his career, many fans raised their eyebrows. After all, Bisping was thirty-seven years old, a well known figure in the mixed martial arts community and about to fight one of the most prominent athletes of our generation, nevermind the octagon.

At the time, this is what Bisping told the MMA hour, “the only reason I’m saying Georges St-Pierre is because I know he wants to fight me, and I was offered a fight with him. That’s the only reason he’s in my mind. If I wasn’t offered a fight with him [in 2016], I wouldn’t be thinking Georges St-Pierre. But that just got that carrot dangled in front of my face of a several-million-dollar payday. Call me stupid, but I want that f*cking carrot. I want that several million dollars in my bank account. I want it for my children’s sake, for my family, for when I’m retired so we can still live a good life.”

In recent years, there has been talk of creating a fighter’s union which has proven successful so far. It would need the backing of bigger names but unfortunately it wouldn’t be in their interests to support it because they are the best paid in the business.

Fighters who make it as far as the UFC do it for the love of the sport. No other sport is comparable. The adrenaline, the rush, the intensity‚Ķ No other sport comes close. As much as money is important, it comes second for most fighters and that’s why the UFC can get away with paying them below market value. The UFC knows the fighters will want to get in that octagon no matter what.

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